This month

Fruit & Vegetable Growing Guide for February

February is the last of the winter months  but it can also be the coldest month. So, take careful account of conditions: It’s better to hold off than to sow in waterlogged, near frozen ground that will most likely rot any seeds. And watch out for good weather in early February – it may not last.

Sowing & Planting Vegetables

Allotment in February

An allotment in February sunset

If the weather allows, you can direct sow broad beans in February along with early peas such as Feltham First and Meteor for a May / June harvest. If the weather is very cold though it would be better to start peas in a greenhouse or a coldframe and plant out later.

Traditionally, seed potatoes should be being chitted  by now. Chitting is the process of sprouting tubers before planting. Some authorities say it benefits maincrops, but not earlies; some say it is of benefit to all types and others say it’s a waste of time and of no benefit at all. Given this uncertainty one option is to follow a version of Pascal’s wager: it does no harm and it might do some good so you may as well chit them.

To chit seed potatoes put them in a cool but frost free place where they get light but not direct sunlight. The potatoes will then grow short stubby shoots intended to get them off to a fast start when planted out.

Conventional advice is to sow parsnips now but some believe their reputation for poor germination rates is due to being sown in cold wet soil and that much better germination rates may be obtained by sowing in March or even April.

Jerusalem artichokes and shallots can be planted now, although shallots will benefit from covering with a cloche.

Under Cover in Coldframe and Polytunnel

it’s time to sow summer cabbages such as Greyhound and Primo, as well as turnips and spinach.

Onions from seed should also be started now. They need about 15 degrees C to get them going so it might be best using a windowsill in a cool room to start them off.

With a heated propagator or windowsills you can also start off aubergine and peppers, chillies and tomatoes.

As mentioned for January, the big problem at this time of year is the lack of available light. Covering cardboard with aluminium foil and standing it to the north side of the seed tray will reflect extra light and help prevent leggy, drawn seedlings without the expense of special horticultural lights.

Planting & Pruning Fruit

There is still time to finish planting fruit trees and bushes, especially raspberries and other cane fruits.

Early this month you can prune apple and pear trees while they are still dormant. It’s also time to prune gooseberries and currants. With currants shorten the sideshoots to just one bud and remove old stems from the centre of the bushes.

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb Forcing Pot and Manure

Rhubarb Forcing Pot and Manure to Insulate

Rhubarb can be forced for an early crop of the sweetest stalks. Just cover a crown or two with large buckets or even an upturned black bin and insulate the outside with straw or manure for added heat. The stalks will grow in the dark.

In years gone by there were specialist forcing pots for this task but a large one like the one in the picture with a lid could set you back £60.

The drawback of forcing is that this takes a lot out of the crown and it won’t recover for a couple of years.

The professional growers in the famous Rhubarb Triangle dig up their crowns and take them into huge dark warm sheds to produce forced rhubarb. Once the season ends these exhausted crowns are discarded as it will take them longer to recover than to grow new crowns.

General Jobs on the Plot

If you have finished all the major tasks, such as digging over, creating leafmould heaps etc you will not have a lot to do in February but if like most of us you are scrambling to keep up, this is your last chance before spring.

Check last year’s potato bed for any volunteers (left over small potatoes) and remove them to avoid passing on disease problems and blight. This years potato bed will benefit from a good application of compost or rotted manure that can be forked in or rotavated in to get them away.

You’re soon going to be using your pots and seed trays so this is a good opportunity to wash out and sterilise them so that seedlings will get off to the best possible start.

You can cover soil with dark plastic sheeting, fleece or cloches to warm it up for a couple of weeks before you start to sow and plant.

Harvest

Leeks may well be standing ready but if a long freeze seems likely you can dig some up and heel them in to dug ground for easy access. Parsnips and swedes in the ground can come up when you are ready, cover with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground.

The cabbage family should be providing some sustenance with early purple sprouting broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts still being available. Beet leaves (perpetual spinach) and chards may be available.

Other crops you may have:  scorzonera, chicory, endive, celeriac, celery and Jerusalem artichokes.